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Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority report says it contributes over $1 billion to local economy

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

A report paid for by the Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority (THEA) says the agency’s strategic investment planning decisions have generated $1.2 billion in local and state gross domestic product and a combined 13,200 jobs.

The Tampa based-agency is best known for owning and operating the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway, the 14-mile all-electronic, limited-access toll road in Hillsborough County.

The reportwritten by the Center for Urban Transportation (CUTR), begins with the premise that increased transportation accessibility promotes the clustering of business and residential units in proximity to expressway points of access. “That in turn leads to a larger pool of workers and customers, which in turn positively affects business firm location decisions, sales, and employment levels,” the report says.

Currently, there are about 14,400 businesses operating within one mile of the Selmon Expressway. These businesses employ approximately 137,000 workers and represent 23.3 percent of all establishments operating in Hillsborough County.

This study found that by improving business and residential accessibility, THEA’s strategic investments increased business clustering and specialization, resulting in 14.1 percent more business establishments than in comparable areas within Hillsborough County over the past 10 years. Increased specialization resulted in a 5.4 percent higher employment growth rate than comparable locations for the same time period.

The CUTR authors say that the Expressway “produces substantial benefits in terms of travel time reductions, increased safety, and a decrease in harmful emissions.”  It finds that the Selmon Expressway saves its users $274 million annually.

The authors of report lay out how they arrived at their conclusions:

Each person saves on average 3.8 hours in travel time per year. This represents a 7.4 percent reduction in the 52 hours of travel time spent annually in congested conditions. Households save $16.2 million per year in out-of-pocket transportation costs due to reduced vehicle fuel and operating expenditures. Savings on fuel and vehicle operating costs represent money available for other household expenditures. These savings benefit households at the lower ranges of income, representing a consistent gain in purchasing power. Businesses also benefit from improved travel conditions through savings of about $9.8 million in congested travel time and in fuel and operating costs.

The state legislature has attempted to shut down THEA on several casions during its history and transfer ownership to the Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise. The most recent attempt occurred in March, 2011 when the legislature attempted to pass a bill that would eliminate THEA, the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority, and Mid-Bay Bridge Authority ostensibly to save the state money. That plan was ultimately scuttled.

The CUTR report comes out just a few weeks after another local government agency, Port Tampa Bay, is under fire after it was reported that it is lagging way behind other Florida ports in terms of the number of containers coming in.

Although a report issued late last year found that the Port brought in more than $17 billion to the local economy, that fact has been superseded by a recent report by WFTS-Channel 28 that the port, the largest in size in the state, shipped a total of 39,761 cargo containers in 2015, much less than smaller ports like Jacksonville (755,452), Miami and Port Everglades (716,182). That’s despite the fact that its CEO, Paul Anderson, makes an annual salary of $382,287, more than the CEO’s of ports in New York and Los Angeles.

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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